Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Scriptural Reasoning for Interfaith Understanding

Yesterday David Ford (University of Cambridge) chaired a workshop which took the shape of an inter-faith discussion with Peter Ochs (University of Virginia), Rumee Ahmed (Brown University) and his wife (whose name I didn't catch), William Taylor (St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London), Ben Quash (University of Cambridge) and Catriona Lang (Cambridge Inter-Faith Program). These participants discussed the theme of poverty around a table using Sura 2: 216-281 from the Qu'ran; Exodus 22:20-27 from Hebrew Scriptures; Matthew 18:23-35 from the New Testament.

First, David Ford explained explained how scriptural reasoning works. It is a reasoned dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims. There is no goal of consensus, only the attempt to develop a wisdom of dispute. It is better, he said, to pass on high quality disagreements rather than shallow agreements. The focus is on what is fruitful for good.

Then the discussion ensued, focusing on each text in turn. And after an "expert" commented, and dialogue got underway amongst participants, then the rest of those in the workshop around the table had a chance to join in with comments and queries. It was invigorating. Some of it may be seen on PBS' Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly this weekend as they filmed parts of the dialogue.

Much of the discussion focused on poverty, the poor, and their relation to God. Two religions condemn usury; and there was a debate about the interpretation and application of these texts.

Perhaps the best comment came right at the end from The Rev. Elizabeth Geitz. She pointed out that there are descriptions in all three texts of a God of anger or violence and she invited the participants to comment. Peter Ochs responded that violence belonged to God not humanity. And we were left with images and ideas with which to wrestle.

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